Hard Bitten

2 minute read
Pavan Shamdasani

In music terminology, Vamps are recurrent themes, usually chords or series of chords played continually to establish rhythm. VAMPS is also the name of a side project by two of Japanese music’s leading lights — alt-rock singer HYDE and guitarist K.A.Z (the professional name of Kazuhito Iwaike).

The two have titled their debut album the same way, and while it’s tempting to think of the name VAMPS as an advertisement for the chugging three-chord rock within, chances are it’s more to do with the fangs and bleeding lips on the album cover, the gothic song titles (“Bite,” “Sex Blood Rock N’ Roll”) and an opportunistic nod to the current youthful fad for all things vampirical. Whatever the intent, the name works both ways.

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HYDE’s and K.A.Z’s full-time bands (L’Arc-en-Ciel and Oblivion Dust, respectively) have always had strong presences in the J-rock scene, each shifting tons of albums to a shared fan base. But there’s no escaping the fact that their day jobs were never this straight-up. Like a well-deserved summer break, the album sees them do what they do best, showcasing screeching vocals and guitar against the unobtrusive, workmanlike backing of a rhythm section of keyboards, bass and drums. Almost all experimental fat is trimmed.

Split evenly between English and Japanese, HYDE’s vocals are at their most grungy and guttural, while K.A.Z’s fluid technical skill is showcased in endless fret-board runs. Their latest single, “Love Addict,” epitomizes the sound with its barrage of power chords, senseless lyrics and throbbing drums. Barring a couple of diversions — the chart-friendly, emo paean “Evanescent,” the wistful ballad “Sweet Dreams” — the album sticks to this no-frills template, which is no bad thing. All the hallmarks of classic J-rock are here, but amped up and hardened for a more streetwise generation.

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